Carrying a garden, with lipstick inside


May 30, 2004|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,Special to the Sun

Ellen Stern's handbags don't just hang idly from an arm. They bloom. Laden with orchids, lilies and roses, handcrafted from vintage couture flowers and leaves, these rich silk and velvet bags aren't merely accessories, they are the main event.

"When people wear them they feel good about themselves," says Stern, a former fashion photographer who grew up in Pikesville and now lives in Reisterstown. "They feel beautiful."

As a photographer, Stern worked for 15 years in Italy and New York, shooting advertising spreads for designers that appeared in such magazines as GQ, Washingtonian and In Style. Her work was known for its dreamy, lush quality and her use of garden settings. She left the fashion world behind when she became a mother 11 years ago, but in Fall 2002 Stern's creativity welled up and she began making handbags with the same sensibility as her photographs. A single bag can take Stern as many as several days to make and cost anywhere from $300 to $2,500, depending on its size.

Stern wasn't intending for the handbags to be anything other than a hobby. But when her mother, Arleen Weiner, the former People Are Talking producer, wore one of Stern's bags to a weekend celebration that her friend Oprah Winfrey gave for Maya Angelou, well, people started talking about EJ Stern handbags. Oprah not only wanted a few of her bags, she put Stern on her show as a contestant in her "Million Dollar Idea Challenge" challenge. Some 10,000 people entered the contest. Stern, one of 29 semifinalists, was shown on TV for about a second, but didn't win the contest. Still, "it was an awesome experience," she says of the October taping with Oprah in Chicago.

Post Oprah, EJ Stern handbags are doing nicely. At February's American Craft Council show -- their debut to buyers -- Stern wrote three orders within the first 20 minutes, she says. EJ Stern Handbags are available at 25 retailers nationally, including Synchronicity in Pikesville, Whichcraft in Chevy Chase and The Figurehead in Lewes, Del. For more information, go to

Soothes skin, conscience

There are a lot of natural and organic beauty products out there. But Stella McCartney goes the extra mile with her new Stella Precious Body Cream, Soft Bath Oil and Soft Deodorant. The products contain no genetically modified raw materials and no artificial preservatives or animal-derived ingredients. They are not tested on animals. And the materials the products are made from have been harvested only by adults and from plant species that are known to be non-endangered.

Now if that doesn't make you feel good, we don't know what will.

Stella body cream, soft bath oil and soft deodorant cost $18 to $60 at Nordstrom stores and at

Fear no prints

Wear your stripes with stripes, your plaids with plaids and your prints with more stripes. It's true -- coordinating one's clothing is so last year.

Liz Claiborne's Spring line features all sorts of clothing pairings that celebrate prints and show them off in a way that looks flirty and fun. Like the look of a horizontal striped red and white French sailor shirt? Instead of white pants, put it with a swingy skirt featuring sidewalk cafe scenes of Paris.

The key is staying in the same color family and with the same general feel of the clothing you are mixing. A poplin windowpane print shirtdress ($79) in light and dark pink on white looks cool when paired with a reversible belt that is a smaller version of the same print -- in two different color combos. The Paris-print linen skirt ($69) and striped shirt ($69) combo works because the red-and-white striped umbrellas in the skirt echo the stripes on the shirt.

Liz Claiborne clothing is available at Hecht's and other department stores or at

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